Parents at a coveted, majority-white elementary school in Richmond are rallying against a proposal to combine the school with a majority-black school.
New school zone options created by a consultant hired by Richmond Public Schools include the “pairing” of William Fox Elementary School in the Fan District and John B. Cary Elementary School near Byrd Park, meaning all students in the two schools’ newly combined zone would start at Fox for kindergarten through second grade before going to Cary for third through fifth grades. The move was made, according to Cropper GIS, the consultant, to improve the diversity of both schools.
The combination is included in just one of the two draft options, which are unlikely to be adopted in their entirety.
Since the unveiling of the “pairing” idea last month, members of the Fox community in particular have used a feedback form published by the school system to criticize it.
“We bought our house in the Fan, directly across the street from Fox, with the intentions of sending our kids to that elementary school,” wrote one parent of a 4-year-old who will be entering kindergarten in the 2020-21 school year, when the new zones are set to take effect. “If option 2 [the “pairing” option] is passed I know that I, along with many other neighbors, would carefully weigh the decision of whether to send my children to private school or to move out of the district for a better elementary school option for our family.”
Said another parent: “Children who live together in a neighborhood should be allowed to attend the neighborhood school together.”
Three in five students at Fox, a school that meets the state’s full accreditation standards, are white, according to data from the Virginia Department of Education. John B. Cary, meanwhile, is 83% black and meets the state’s full standards.
In the proposal, Cary would become 52% black and 42% white, while Fox would be 47% white and 44% black, according to data from Cropper.
The goal of improving the district’s diversity as part of the rezoning process was initially proposed by Richmond schools Superintendent Jason Kamras and endorsed by the city’s School Board, which received a copy of the initial feedback Monday night.
“Anywhere we have an opportunity to create more diverse, more integrated school environments is a great thing, and I want to work with [parents] to figure that out,” Kamras said in an interview.
More than half of the 39 comments made through the feedback form have been about the Fox-Cary pairing. The form asks for only respondents’ school affiliation and does not require names.
“I’m not surprised,” said Scott Barlow, who represents Fox on the School Board, about the amount of feedback. Barlow said last month when the idea was initially proposed that he’s “open to exploring all reasonable options.”
Anisha Walker, the outgoing PTA president at Fox, did not return multiple requests for comment, but in her online feedback, in which she identified herself, she asked the district to hold community meetings on the proposal.
Kamras said he would schedule meetings with both Fox and Cary parents.
“If we really want to move this school district forward, we’re going to have to have those uncomfortable conversations," said School Board Chairwoman Dawn Page.
A spokesman for Mayor Levar Stoney said the mayor hadn’t been briefed on the proposal but “the mayor believes increasing the diversity of Richmond Public Schools benefits both the schools and the students who attend them.”
A special committee tasked with reviewing the new zone options is scheduled to meet again July 30.